Attorney general reviews church abuse claims in Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s attorney general said Tuesday that he’s reviewing allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in the state following similar examinations elsewhere.
A grand jury report last year in Pennsylvania found hundreds of abusive priests in the state. Catholic dioceses in more than two dozen states have named suspected abusers since that landmark report, and several states have announced they’re taking a closer look at such allegations.
Democrat Peter Neronha said he’s concerned about the allegations in Rhode Island, but he couldn’t say what specific steps he may or may not take.
“It’s my intent to review the allegations that have been made and chart a course forward,” he said. “What that would entail, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say at this point.”
Neronha also said he’ll be asking state lawmakers to pass a law to allow a grand jury to issue a report when a criminal indictment isn’t returned.
The Rev. Bernard Healey said Tuesday that the Diocese of Providence is “completely committed to safety, justice and healing.” The diocese plans to release the names of priests credibly accused of abuse later this year.
“The Diocese of Providence is deeply and wholeheartedly committed to protecting children from the crime of sexual abuse, providing justice and healing for innocent and suffering victims and ensuring measures to prevent sexual abuse,” Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, said in a statement.
Healey said the diocese has promptly and fully reported all abuse allegations to law enforcement for more than 20 years and began voluntarily sharing these allegations with the attorney general’s office in 2016. Healey said he couldn’t comment on Neronha’s proposal for grand jury reports because it hasn’t been submitted to the Legislature yet.
The Rhode Island Catholic Conference says the diocese has paid over $21 million in legal settlements and another $2.3 million for counseling to resolve more than 130 claims of abuse by clergy in church-run schools and parishes, according to The Providence Journal. The newspaper reported that the payouts are described in written testimony filed for a hearing Tuesday. Lawmakers are considering a bill to extend the state’s statute of limitations for filing child sexual abuse lawsuits.
Neronha said his bill will include a provision so that anyone named in a grand jury report will be notified and offered a court hearing to make the case that either the report shouldn’t be released or their name should be redacted. Neronha said he doesn’t think grand jury reports would be released often using this mechanism— doing so would have to “serve the public’s interest.”
Neronha, a former U.S. attorney who became the state’s attorney general in January, said he reviewed similar statutes in Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri and California to develop a proposal for Rhode Island.
Pope Francis closed his first-ever global Catholic summit on preventing clergy sex abuse on Sunday by vowing to end abuse cover-ups, but some abuse survivors were disappointed he didn’t offer a concrete action plan to hold bishops accountable when they failed to protect their parishioners.